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North Carolina breaks another record for reported COVID-19 hospitalizations

The (Raleigh) News & Observer logo The (Raleigh) News & Observer 6/10/2020 By Lynn Bonner and Jonas Pope IV, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Reported hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients continued to climb, with the state reporting a new high Tuesday of 774 people being treated in hospitals for coronavirus infections.

Hospitalizations increased by 35 patients over Monday, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. Seven-day rolling averages for hospitalizations are increasing.

In an interview with reporters last week, Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease expert at the UNC School of Medicine, called COVID hospitalizations “really, the truest canary in the coal mine for us. It’s really the best indicator we have of where we are with the pandemic.”

State health officials are worried about community spread of the virus. It’s also become more of a concern for those who have been in large protest groups that have turned out in Raleigh and other cities in the state after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, by police in Minneapolis.

At protests the past week in Raleigh, many people have worn masks and face coverings, but social distancing is problematic as groups gather, sit and march in large clusters.

Andrew Harrell was in Moore Square on Tuesday to protest police killings and excessive use of force. A vigil was held to recognize people who have been killed or faced excessive force from Raleigh police.

Harrell kept his distance from the crowd and wore a mask. He said the spike in COVID-19 numbers was a concern, and that he is trying to be careful.

“I’m trying to be as responsible as possible while participating in what’s going on,” Harrell said. “I feel like this is equally important right now.”

Erika Wyse also was at Moore Square. Visiting North Carolina from Ohio, she said she has been to rallies in Ohio, but Tuesday was her first time protesting in North Carolina. She said she has seen more protesters wearing masks in Raleigh than in her home state and also liked people are handing out masks at the protests.

“It’s in the back of my head, but this means more to me,” Wyse said. “I’ve been to multiple protests and more people are wearing masks than without.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus coordinator, called Dr. Mandy Cohen, DHHS secretary, last Friday to talk about the spread of coronavirus infection in the state.

DHHS reported 676 new lab-confirmed coronavirus infections Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 37,160 since the first case was identified in March. More than 535,700 people have been tested since March, with 15,598 tests completed Tuesday. DHHS reported that 8% of Monday's tests were positive for the coronavirus.

In a memo Tuesday to health care providers and laboratories, DHHS said community transmission is increasing in many areas of the state and among historically marginalized populations, “especially among our Latinx community.”

The memo included updated guidance on when clinicians should test patients, or arrange for them to be tested.

Anyone with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19

Close contacts of known positive cases, regardless of symptoms

People with higher risk of exposure or at higher risk of severe disease if they become infected.

People in these groups should get tested if they believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19, whether or not they have symptoms, the new guidance says.

These include people who have regular contact with high-risk settings such as long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, or migrant farm-worker camps; historically marginalized populations who may be at higher risk for exposure; grocery store clerks, gas station attendants, child care workers, construction sites, processing plant employees and others who work in places where social distancing is difficult; health care workers and first responders, and people who are at high risk of serious illness.

People who have attended protests, rallies, or other mass gatherings, especially if they were in crowds where they could not effectively stay six feet away from others.

DHHS has websites that help users decide whether they should be tested for the coronavirus, and identifies testing locations.

Black and Hispanic residents are bearing a disproportionate impact of COVID-19. Hispanics are less than 10% of the population, but account for 42% of coronavirus cases, according to DHHS. African Americans are 22% of the population and account for 27% of coronavirus cases.

In a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper testing sites are being set up in marginalized communities, and many contact tracers working in the state are bilingual.

The task force on health care disparities announced last week will talk about how to improve safety for workers in the food-processing industry, he said.

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©2020 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Visit The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) at www.newsobserver.com

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